Some More Excerpts (from 'Jed' and 'Cake')

Fiction By Sarah Bethany // 12/11/2014

Jed (novella excerpt)

He took the boys to the barn and they chased the chickens and cuddled with Brewster, the two-hundred pound hog. Evelyn was there, too, standing before the goat stall. He walked over to her, kicking small stones on the barn floor, hands in his pockets.
“Lookit. These are my favorite.” Her fingers were squeezing the corroding iron bars. He looked. Those knuckle-bones were like white shells...with veins like blue feathers. “The nutmeg one is so bombastic.”
“I love them, too.”
“Come in here,” she suddenly said.
“What?”
“Will you go in with me?”
“I –”
“Ah, come on – we can do it.”
“Alright.”
She amazed him by stepping up onto the green wheelbarrow that was jamming the stall door shut. She held onto the bars with one hand and the wall with the other, and ungracefully clambered up onto the window ledge of the door. She jumped and Jed could hear her weight hitting the soft dirt and hay on the other side: the goats muttered in response.
Jed followed at once. He loved this feeling. He loved that she asked him, so casually, like a playmate in childhood, as if she knew he would say yes. He had the impression she believed soundly in his warmth and aliveness - in his belonging.
“Watch the nutmeg – it knocks into you,” she said, once he had jumped into their cell. She was readying herself, spreading her legs and wagging herself back and forth like she was a linebacker waiting to be hit by the baby goat.
“Hold it! – by its horns if it comes!”
She was nearly shrieking this direction as the goat dove first for Jed, head down. He grasped it uncertainly, and it wobbled its bony head in madness.
“I don’t want to hurt 'im.”
“You won’t!”
“Oh, it’s coming for you now!”
“Watch it!”
The goat pushed her against the wall and he did not know if she was exaggerating the kid’s strength or if she really was that powerless. She laughed, a wide, open-mouth laugh as if to take on the world with her entire cavity.
“Look at it! Look at it go!” she crowed in triumph.
Then her eyes caught Jed’s, her hands on the horns, the head between her knees, and he felt that she peeled back her soul for him in that moment, like an orange, spicy.

***

How Madge Was Saved By German Chocolate Cake (short story excerpt)

“I don’t know how these elfin creations come out of you." Dolly drifted in that morning, trailing a peacock-blue afghan behind her.
“What, because I have fat thumbs? Fingers fit only for potato-grubbing?”
“You do have fat thumbs,” nuzzling her nose into Madge’s shoulder. “But that has nothing to do with artistry. – Oh, this is exquisite,” she breathed, leaning down.
“Careful! Don’t touch it. Wait a moment.”
Madge’s thick wrists paused above her creation. She seemed to take a breath before she lifted, ever so delicately, a miniature butterfly into the air. Its sugar wings rested on the pads of her two fingertips. Then, with the care of one building a castle of playing cards, she bore it aloft to the third tier of an enormous pink cake, and set the butterfly down on the petal of a sugar rose.
“Oh, Madge.”
“Butter me up and tie me to a pole,” said Madge, smacking her hands on her thighs -- hard. “That was hazardous. But it’s done.”
“Madge! C'est magnifique. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so gorgeous. Look at it…” Dolly walked around the table to circle the cake, her woolly feathers dribbling behind her. She leaned over, like a child in a candy store. “Look at all these roses climbing the sides. Peach and lemon and crimson. And the butterflies: two, four, six, eight - ten - eleven - twelve. How did you get the colors on the wings all swirled and glistening?”
She was pulling dried icing off her fingers with a towel, as aggressively as one might scrub a carrot. “Easily. If you melt the sugar you get an iridescent look when the glaze cools. And smooth as glass.”
“It is so breathtaking.” Dolly’s lash-sparked eyes were wide. “Who is it for?”
“I've got a smaller version for us already made in the icebox." Madge chucked the dishtowel across the room. “It is dinner-plate sized and we will eat it all tonight. The cake part is vanilla. The icing is vanilla creme with orange, and there are three almond cream layers in the middle.”
“Yes, but who gets this enormous version?” repeated Dolly, her eyes rising to the crumple of roses at the top.
“The Mahoney baby.”
“The...”
“Bridie Mahoney had her eleventh baby and ninth girl last night at ten o’clock.”
“And you have been working since then, haven't you. Madge, you are a saint - a Dorcas all-round.”
“Slop off, Dolly. Even an eleventh baby should get a cake like the first one. Babies have feelings. She will know whether she had a cake in the kitchen or not.”
“It will not be there long enough for anyone to know. The rest of them will eat it like swarming mice.”
Madge rustled wax paper over the top, veiling the castle. “Food can be transformative,” she said, adjusting a blue butterfly wing under the paper with the tip of her finger. Her voice was reverent. “They slide one bite of this off their forks, and they will be celebrating in their hearts. Even Mr. Mahoney. He will think there is something special about having a ninth daughter.”
“I think they will consume it without forks, and you will get nary a thanks.”
Madge hefted the pink cake up in her arms. Her face was lumpy like the dough she worked with, and her eyes were small like black currants, sinking into the folds of her skin. She was thick and she was dumpy. She stood in the screen doorway, weighted under with her gift like a Magus, backlit by a lake dissolving in the sunrise.
“But the baby will know,” she said again.

***

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